There were many medieval manors on Dartmoor and Rushford is one of those timeless places where it seems time has stood still, although most of the original structures have long gone there are still vestiges that appear to last throughout time. You can literally walk in the foot steps, or at least stepping stones that for centuries travellers have passed across as they went about their daily lives.The earliest mention of Rushford is that for Risford in the Domesday book of 1086, here the translated entry states:“Eadwig holds Rushford from Baldwin, He himself held it TRE (Tempore Regis Edwardi – in the time of King Edward or before the 1066 invasion) and it paid geld for 1 hide. There is land for 5 ploughs. In demesne is 1 plough, with 1 slave; and 8 villans and 5 bordars with 3 ploughs. There are 5 acres of meadow, and 4 acres of pasture and 4 acres of scrubland, Formerly, as now worth 30s”. So in this year Rushford was called ‘Risford’ and probably centred on what now is Rushford Barton, Rushford Mill, Rushford Wood, and Higher and Lower Withecombe, it is likely that these lands formed a manor previous to the later Rushford Barton. The place-name etymology of the place according to the Place-Name Society, p. 425, is: Risford – 1086 (Domesday Book) – Risford – 1242 ( Book of Fees) – Rissheford – 1292 (Assize Rolls) – Russheford – 1504 (Calendar of Inquisitions) Both Rushford and Rushford Mill appear on Benjamin Donn’s map of 1765. The OS map of 1888 shows the barton, mill and outlying farms as separate identities – see map below.
The manor of Rushford belonged to a family called de Risford until around the late 1100’s when the heiress married a man named Hore. There is a record dating to 1249 in which a John Furland complained to the justices that the lord of Rushford had deprived him of his grazing on the fields after harvest, this presentment was upheld on the lord had to restore seisin (the possession of such an estate in land as was anciently thought worthy to be held by a free man) and pay compensation, Finberg, p. 271. During the period between 1300 and 1400 a family called Monke held the manor from the Hore’s. who returned by Tudor times. It was the Hore family who probably built the Tudor Barton of Rushford which was located just to the north of the old Norman manor house. The building was said to have been described as a “fine Tudor barton”. By the early 1800s the estate was owned by Hooper family and in 1816 a notice appeared in various newspapers offering to let from the following Lady Day Withecombe Cottage’ which consisted of; a parlour, sitting room, four bedrooms, kitchen, good gardens well stocked with fruit trees, stabling for 4 horses, outbuildings, with hunting and fishing available over the extensive manor opposite. An identical notice appeared in the April of 1823 this time with immediate effect, similarly to be let again in again in 1828, 1829, 1830,
In 1856 the whole estate of Rushford was brought by the then rector of Chagford George Hayter Hames, this included Rushford Barton, Rushford Mill, and Rushford Wood. The original farmhouse was destroyed by a fire in 1913 and was then virtually rebuilt. It is thought that the manor pound of Rushford was located somewhere near the farmstead of Mount Flaggon although there is no trace of it today.
As with any estate there were various commercial aspects to Rushford and timer was a main one. According to the Tithe Apportionment of 1840 there was just over 95 acres of woodland and copses along with around 7 acres of woodland growing in ‘wastes’. In 1815 and advert appeared in many of the local newspapers offering 340 oak trees and 36 ash trees for sale, all with their tops and bark. The Chagford Tithe Apportionment of 1840 gives a glimpse of Rushford Barton as can be seen below. At that time the whole estate consisted of some 306 acres comprising of arable land , pasture land, meadows, orchards, and woodlands.
There was once a chapel to the west of Rushford Manor which according to English Heritage records was licensed in 1329, by 1630 it was a ruin and then demolished between the 17th and 18th centuries. Hayter-Haymes, p.35 further adds that it was a monk called William le Moyne who was given the right to the chapel by Bishop Grandisson. Major Hore finally demolished the structure in the 18th century as in his opinion it obscured the views from his house. The stones were used to rebuild his garden and orchard walls and are evident today. The aerial map above of the area does show the feint outline of a rectangular building near to the site of where the chapel was said to have been, this could well be the last vestiges of the structure?
Notable Events at Rushford Manor. – The March of 1838 an article in the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette related how a respectable auctioneer from Exeter received a letter saying that the owner of Rushford Barton wished to sell all his livestock and dead stock, furniture and effects and could he come to value them as soon as possible. The next day the auctioneer along with his clerk left Exeter in a chaise and pair for Rushford. On arrival he met the son, William Hooper and explained that he had come to value the assets of the farm prior to sale. This came as bit of a shock to William who probably saw his future inheritance go under the hammer. He immediately fetched his father John who emphatically stated that nothing was for sale. The auctioneer explained that he had received a letter signed by John Hooper requesting his urgent attention. It was the politely explained to the poor auctioneer that it was all a hoax and he had been sent out on a ‘fool’s errand’. But as a small gesture of compensation both the auctioneer and his clerk were treated to a sumptuous lunch and all parted on good terms, the author of the letter was never discovered.
Rushford Mill was the original manorial corn mill and it is thought that the stepping stones which spanned the river Teign were at one time the main crossing point from the manor to Chagford. It was normal for each manor to have its own grinding mill and then everybody who was affiliated to that manor were compelled to bring their corn for grinding be it for flour or grist (cattle feed), Harris, 1992, p.118. In many places the miller was one of the least popular people as he was seen as taking unfair profit from the fact that the villagers had to use him. In the Lutterell Psalter the miller is typically depicted as an ugly man looming over an old, helpless woman along with a fierce guard dog. For more information on Rushford Mill see the Legendary Dartmoor page – HERE.
Rushford bridge was estimated to originally have been 7½ feet wide and was later widened to its present width, much of the original structure including the twin arches were kept, Henderson & Jervoise, p.40. There is an entry in the Chagford’s churchwarden accounts for 1539 for a payment of 10s for repairs to Rushford Bridge. In the August of 1816 the County Clerk of the Peace was inviting tenders to widen Rushford Bridge and all the plans and specifications could be seen at the house of the Reverend G. Gregory of Dunsford
“There is a saying often repeated that when the coroner crosses Chagford Bridge once he always does three times a year. He recently held an inquest on a man who was killed by falling from a waggon near Rushford Barton; the next may be on one or more persons killed by the capsizing of a vehicle at the end of the lane leading to Rushford Mill. If the bus horses were to swerve about a couple of feet from their ordinary track at this spot the top passengers would go down this lane no doubt to their deaths, and the Coroner’s jury would say the road ought to have been repaired when the Parish Council called attention to it some weeks ago. This spot is probably the narrowest and most dangerous piece of main road in the County.” – East & South Devon Advertiser, August 1st, 1896.
To the southern end of Rushford Wood is what Knowling, pp. 7 – 8, describes as Dartmoor’s best-known follies. It consists of a single tower and a small castle-like structure, listed as a “small observation tower in the Victorian Gothic style”. Tradition has it that the building was built sometime between 1850 -1900 and that it was used by a ‘grandstand’ for women and children from which they watched the many shooting parties that were held in the woods. J. Ll. Warden Page in his book, ‘The Rivers of Devon, p.74, describes Rushford Tower as an, “modern antique tower”. This book was published in 1893 so perhaps if he describes it as being, “modern”, it could indicate a construction date towards the end of the 1800’s – please note Rushford Tower is on private land with no access rights!
Crossing, 1990, p.275, draws attention to a strip of turf that lies to the north of Rushford Tower, this he says was known as the ‘bowling green’ on which was a rock basin known as the ‘punchbowl’.
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